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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 19, 2001

Pioneers of Hawai'i jazz to jam at Blaisdell tonight

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

Hawai'i jazz musician Rene Paulo plays his acrylic piano. Paulo plays infrequently these days, but will perform at the jazz festival tonight.

Kyle Sackowski • The Honolulu Advertiser

Pianist Rene Paulo remembers playing jazz during his high school days with the likes of saxophonist Gabe Baltazar and drummer Danny Barcelona. They often got paid with meals.

"I was at Leilehua High School and Gabe was at McKinley and Danny was at Farrington," said Paulo, 72, patriarch of a musical family that includes his singing wife Akemi and entertainer-children Michael, Rene Jr., Kathy and Vicki.

"Hawaiian jazz and Hawaiian swing was loosely related," recalled Baltazar, 71, Hawai'i's premiere jazz saxophonist and former member of the renowned Stan Kenton band. "I remember, I was a little boy, growing up in the era of the 1930s, when jazz and swing were kingpin, from the '30s, '40s and through the '50s."

Representing "yesterday's" music-makers, Paulo and Baltazar, joined by Rodney and Kanoe Cazimero, will assemble tonight in the first of four concerts in the Hawai'i International Jazz Festival at Blaisdell Concert Hall.

The bill also will include Zanuck Lindsay's Hula Joe & the Hutjumpers band, representing the modern contingent of jazz proponents, plus a handful of other contemporary notables ranging from Melveen Leed and Jimmy Borges to Jake Shimabukuro and Moe Keale.

Fewer places for jamming

"I think all of us old guys started playing jazz, experiencing that along with other kinds of music," said Paulo, who is coming out of retirement for the festival gig. "In the old days, there were a lot of old nightclubs that featured swing and Dixieland. Even strip clubs had some jazz. I worked some of these places and covered a spectrum of music, from Dixieland to Latin, to old blues and Hawaiian. They're all gone now, sadly."

The old-style path to exposure, in which musicians cruised the clubs, sitting in and jamming informally with more established groups, is no more.

Not only are there fewer clubs featuring live music, the range of music played, and instruments used, is narrower. "That's the thing about the old Hawaiian groups: many had brass and woodwinds, drums, bass and piano, along with 'ukulele and steel guitar," said Baltazar. "And there were places we could all play.

"Rene and I would get together with Danny and we would make the rounds of 'Aiea, Waipahu, Kahuku, Waimanalo ... and pretty much play for kaukau," said Baltazar. "It was the experience, getting to bring the music to the people."

David Choy, a nephew of Baltazar and easily one of the most prolific saxophonists today (he has recorded or performed with nearly every major act in town), said he wouldn't be doing music full-time today if it weren't for his family connections. He will be part of the jazz slate tonight.

"All we heard was jazz when we were growing up," said Choy, who now lives on Maui where the climate for jazz is better, he said. "It set the stage for my career today. I was really into Stan Kenton when I was growing up, and learned all the modern stuff like Tower of Power later. But thanks to my Uncle Gabe, who shared his experiences with us, having been on the road with Kenton, it's helped me more than any formal education could. Uncle Gabe is the backbone of my musical upbringing."

These days, Choy does a lot producing, writing, arranging and programming for a myriad of local performers in Honolulu and in Los Angeles, but he relocated to Maui "because I think there are a lot more venues here and a bigger respect for jazz musicians as a whole," he said.

Lindsay, 42, who fronts Hula Joe & the Hutjumpers, said he's a musical chameleon and an observer of the jazz scene for several years. "We love the music and we follow a long line of big band and Hawaiian swing groups," said the Kamehameha Schools graduate who lived and worked in L.A. for 13 years before returning here to find his niche in the entertainment spectrum. The Hutjumpers represent the modern hybrid of Hawaiian swing.

Hawai'i-style swing

"Our Hawaiian swing is a cousin of traditional jazz," he said. "We're following a long line of big band and Hawaiian swing musicians who have mixed steel, horns and 'ukulele in what they do, but we worked in the hapa-haole and just spiced up some arrangements. But we owe a big debt to Hawaiian music, inherent in our style. No matter what the arrangements, the three-chord Hawaiian song and harmonies come out."

Paulo still plays keyboards infrequently, but is proud of the accomplishments of his kids. "I never prodded them to get into music; it's a hard career with a lot of hard work and a lot of stress," he said. "But they were exposed to it, so we're not surprised but pleased that they chose what they did. Michael's success has been wonderful; Kathy and Rene Jr. now are involved in Christ Church in Kapolei, and Vicki has started her own ministry, the New Life Church, at home."

Exposure to music has been a key in Zanuck's life, too. "My dad played Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Dave Brubeck, and Hawaiian jazz like Richard Kauhi, Buddy Fo & the Invitations, for Hi-Los-type harmonies," he said. "Throw in my love for rock and the Beatles and the Beach Boys and you get the hooks and melodies."

Abe Weinstein, founder-organizer of the jazz festival, said there are similarities between Hawaiian jazz and swing. "Somebody like Gabe has taken Hawaiian swing to the next level with his really jazzy idiom, a process that developed over the decades," said Weinstein. "He'd blend some hapa-haole with big-band sounds and his inspirational sax has meant he's taken the music to the be-bop level. In the same way, a Hawaiian steel guitarist like Henry Allen, who can play Hawaiian and country, has brought the steel into a jazz idiom. The synthesis is what's special about Hawaiian jazz and swing."

He said Hawai'i's musicians are quick to reinvent the language of jazz. "You get a real lesson when you put the younger guys, like Jake Shimabukuro and Brother Noland, together with the veterans like Noel Okimoto and Steve Jones and Betty Loo Taylor."

• • •

Hawai'i International Jazz Festival

Hawaiian Jazz Night: 7 tonight, Blaisdell Concert Hall

Featuring: Rene Paulo & Family, Gabe Baltazar & David Choy, Rodney & Kanoe Cazimero; plus Hula Joe & the Hutjumpers, Jake Shimabukuro, Jimmy Borges, Betty Loo Taylor, Melveen Leed, Brother Noland, Moe Keale

Tickets: $40, $35, $20. Four-day pass: $120. Call: 591-2211 (Blaisdell), 526-4400 (Ticket Plus)

Other events:

  • Tribute to Stan Kenton, Part I, 7 p.m. tomorrow, Blaisdell
  • Tribute to Stan Kenton, Part II, 7 p.m. Saturday, Blaisdell
  • Parade of Big Bands, 4 p.m. Sunday, McKinley High School auditorium

The Advertiser is a sponsor of the Jazz Festival.